Week 39: A Family Affair at The Bristol Half Marathon

Sunday 25th September

I believe Bristol Half marathon will go down as THE highlight of 52 Half Marathons in 2016. The reason is not the scenery or the course, or the fact it’s a home half marathon but the generosity and determination of my family and friends who came along to take part. Tonight I’m humbled, grateful and full of love for my running partners, many of whom overcame their fears and went to their very limits to make it around the course. Katie is one of 5 sisters and long ago, back in the spring, they somehow managed to bully each other into signing up for the Bristol Half Marathon to run for The Grand Appeal. Laura also managed to rope in her boyfriend Faizal as well- a man of notable military pedigree who fullsizerender-2surely still possessed that grit!? The weekend crept up on everyone so quickly and on Saturday night The Family descended upon our tiny house for an education in carbohydrate loading like they’d never seen before. 2 flavours of risotto, garlic bread, fizzy drinks followed by apple pie and custard. It turns out force feeding girls is not as easy as you’d expect! Ironically husbands who weren’t running didn’t seem to be so resistant.

img_5499Personally, I’ve been aiming to take on a PB at this race for some time and today I had the pleasure of a team of friends alongside me all capable of dragging me under 1hr40mins. Matt has run marathons, ultras and 3 day events. Luke, an active member of the UK Run Chat scene and a sub 1hr25min half marathoner-not too shabby. And Mike’s been cycling up mountains all summer, his second half marathon with me this year.

And so we were ready. We caught the bus down to the harbourside and the girls were obviously nervous. But with great fear comes great fundraising. After The Warm Up on Monday night The Grand Appeal total was £5135. Pre-race we hovered at £5731 and the money just kept on coming.

img_5482Flat course, big crowd and pacemakers galore-The 100mins barrier had to fall today. Today we set out fast. What I learned from The Treadmill is that when you feel good go quick to buy yourself time for the inevitable drop. That’s what I tried to do from the start. Thankfully the boys had absolutely no problem responding to my sporadic pace changes! I went in bare, no food or GPS- just a heart rate monitor with no time on it to make sure I was working hard enough. I know I can sustain roughly 180 bpm when I’m on the edge. At 5 img_5484and 10km Matty just gave me the nod to say we were making good time. 10km we hit a new PB for me at 45mins30secs. At 16km a gentle stitch appeared which then grew over the last 5km. There’s something about 5km to go that invites another push on if you can and I tried. Weaving in and out of the rabbit warren of a course we approached Queen’s Square and I asked the boys to lift it again with 2km to go. That confidence was short lived as the stitch grew up into my ribcage and strangled my heavy breathing. Then Matty started lying to me…

“Come on mate we’ve got to lift it again”

“Come on mate, last km needs to be 4:30…. last 800m in 2mins….you’ve gotta lift it… ”

I couldn’t lift my legs let alone lift the pace and I hung on to the boys for dear life. If this wasn’t sub-100mins I don’t know when or where I could do it.

“…last 400 in 60 seconds” but I just couldn’t accelerate. I knew I couldn’t do that and my hear sank. Coming around the corner to the last 200m I just kept going as fast as I could. As the finish line came into sight, there it was: 1hr37mins… finally…I’ve hit an outdoor PB of under 100mins and by some margin! Dragged in by 3 great runners like a lame Mark Cavendish delivered to the line by his lead out team… only I was less than elegant and finished in 735th place- no podium or sprinters jersey on this occasion.

The great news is that everyone got around in one piece. Relief! It’s been an incredible weekend and I’m so grateful to everyone who took part, made the long journey to support to run with me. Thanks to the masses of people that donated their hard earned cash in week 38. At the end of Sunday we smashed through our target of £6000 and as I write this the donations are still coming in. As it stands the pot sits at £6188, a whopping £1053 from this week along.



Week 38: The Warm Up Run

Monday 19th September

img_5444The goal of tonight was to just get the job done to give me as much time as possible to have a good go at a PB at The Bristol Half. I’m not sure my bum touched a seat all day at work until I got in the car to pick up Autumn. Next stop Whitehall to meet Katie and from there I ran. Tonight I just set my GPS going, turned down the sound and ran. As dusk came over the city the rain started to pour. After the last few  weeks in the heat it made for a refreshing change. I ventured to the other side of the Avon, under Clifton Bridge and up through Leigh Woods. Absolutely stunning route. With a cloud of rain the forest was eeimg_5446rie, quiet and stunning.

Compared to last week and despite a long day on my feet I felt good. No fluid or gels required. I just focussed on the hundred yards in front of me trotting along with no need to check the distance until many miles in. I prefer running with quiet. No music, times checks or noise as a distraction. This was an enjoyable run, new scenery and another one under my belt. I landed home just after 8pm, dinner on the table and a glass of wine alongside. Now to get ready for the Bristol Half.

Week 37: The Psychology of a Slow 1/2 Marathon

Wednesday 14th September

img_5238Middle of September… surely this weather is going to cool down!? After the ordeal of Week 37’s Treadmill, the goal of this week was to get back on the road and stride out another. Last week left my legs absolutely dead, not painful- just empty! I’ve made this mistake before where you head out for a cruisey 21km. Pick a familiar and enjoyable route, avoid too many hills and just wait for the miles to pass by. The problem is there’s 13 odd miles to let “pass by” and these runs are never easy, however relaxed you take them. It’s odd but atleast if you’re striving for a best time then you’re expecting to suffer. It hurts but you’re being aggressive pushing all the time. Take 10% off that speed like I did tonight and you expect it to be easier. But your head tricks you img_5463as for me it’s still a tough thing to do. My passive mindset just isn’t prepared for the fight. This afternoon it was hot with the September sunshine baking down on me. I’ve had a lot worse this year but difficult all the same. My latest running meditation is on the img_5243wonderment of what my body is doing as I run and what it’s capable of. I can lose myself for 30mins on this storyline. The positive feelings of gratitude, luck and wonderment can stave off any indulgment of negativity
when you consider how insignificant my suffering is in the history of suffering. It’s just not that comfortable running for 100+mins. There’s a tranquility in discomfort if you can find it.


Week 36: Treadmill

Wednesday 7th September

This is a half marathon that I’ve been dreading since we conceived the idea a few months img_5109ago. The attempt was to coincide with the official opening of the new Team Bath Gym by Olympic gold medalist Colin Jackson. In the weeks before I had some equally stupid souls suggest that they would join alongside me for a half marathon but one-by-one they fell quietly away. I can understand why, the morning of this one made me nervous. I’ve never enjoyed treadmills. The incessant grind of the belt under your feet and the endless amount of data detailing your demise. I think it was also a mixture of zero excuses (i.e., no hills or gates to slow me down) and peer pressure that the target had to be going faster than I’d gone img_5105before which was obviously going to be painful…

… And so it was. The Team Bath MCTA tennis academy filled the treadmills next to me img_5108
taking it in turns from start to finish. James Mitchell, one of our injured players even came in especially to walk the whole lot alongside me. Megan Fletcher (judo) and Molly MacKenzie (modern pentathlon) also coming along for the ride and did some great fundraising as well. I watched every metre and every second ticking by in front of me and skipped up and down in pace pushing 1.5km intervals with 500m at a lower pace and then back up again for the next one. From 11km-21km the machine left me with no doubt that 12km/hr (5minute km’s) were required to beat the 100minutes. 13km then 12.5km then 12km… And repeat for the next 30minutes.

1hr38mins16secs is the new record for me. Massive relief to have got this one done. Next goal is to repeat that on the road. Thanks to everyone who contributed to the day and put some money in the bucket as well. Over £105 collected for the day.

Week 35: God’s Country

For in six days the The Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them but on the seventh day… He built Yorkshire!

Exodus 20:11

The Yorkshire Dales has to be one of my most favourite places on the planet. You can never appreciate how many shades of green are possible until you see a picturesque Dales landscape on a sunny day. The turbulence of the weather makes it all the more wild and remote.

Today my destination was Buckden- a tiny village on the cusp of the hills that the Tour de France graced 2 years ago. Katie, Autumn and I drove up from Bristol for a wedding weekend out in the sticks and the girls dumped me out of the car in Cracoe. The first 5km were very forgettable running on a busy A-road, hopping up and down the verge as lorries from the local mine stormed past me. Crossing East over the river into Grassington and then back north I skipped through a farmer’s field on the Wharfdale Way. A stunning path that skirts the River Wharf upstream towards the source. In 10km of running I saw more wild horses than I did people. Seeing convoys of cars on the opposite side of the road it felt like I’d found a secret road all to myself. Having done 2 carb loading days (fed to run on Wednesday but didn’t) this week I had no shortage of energy passing through Kettlewell into the last 6km- the only thing slowing me down was a farmers gate every 100m or so- not conducive to a fast finish! I’ve walked this stretch of the Dales many times and it was an absolute pleasure to finish up and take a lonesome short stroll and finish in Buckden just in time for the Cragg’s wedding pre-wedding reception.